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How to make your team more collaborative

The secret of encouraging collaboration may be hiding in plain site. Your kindergarten teacher was on to something!That’s what new research out of a Canadian business school suggests.

A team of researchers asked volunteers to sit in chairs either arranged in a rectangle or a circle and evaluate advertisements. Where the chairs are placed seems like a meaningless detail, however the researchers found it affected how the subjects felt about the ads.

The findings from the Saunder School of Business found that “Those sitting in a circle or oval reacted more favorably towards ads that conveyed a sense of belonging, showing groups of family members or friends. In contrast, participants seated in rectangular formations identified more with ads portraying go-getting individuals.”

“The geometric shape of a seating arrangement can act as a subtle environmental cue for people, by priming their fundamental need for inclusiveness or individuality,” explained professor Juliet Zhu, who co-authored the study.

The bottom line for business owners and bosses is that what works for five year olds also works for 50-year-olds. Seating folks Apprentice-style around a boardroom type table makes them more likely to act selfishly. Putting them in a circle where they can see the faces of their co-workers sends out subtle kumkaya vibes and encourages people to feel like they belong to a group and be less antagonistic and more collaborative

It’s an insight Zhu feels can be applied in a variety of settings, from family dinners (though no guarantees that investing in a circular table will tame that curmudgeonly uncle everyone dreads seeing at Thanksgiving) to public transit, airports, shops and, yes, the offices of small businesses.

Here is an opportunity to rethink your meetings and where folks sit to get the most out of the meeting.

Thanks to Jessica Stillman of INC Magazine for this insightful article.